When Vic and I bought our dilapidated Victorian house, all of our friends knew where our time and money would be going. They were right…fifteen years marked off not by seasons or holidays, but by home-improvements.
What they didn’t know, though, was that my heart really wasn’t tied to the house that would demand such devotion. My heart belonged outside in the yard, even more run-down than the house. Oleander bushes around the back yard were no more than stands of tall dried sticks. At least they hid the sorry truth of our yard from neighbors, a full expanse of packed, hard dirt, a vast brown wasteland.
Move-in day was simple for us as young marrieds in our first home. We set our clothes in the closets and carried in our dining room table and chairs. Move-in finished! Excitedly, we grabbed our remaining small wad of money and drove to the nursery, making our first home-improvement purchase, trees.
Trees wouldn’t care how bad the house looked. They would grow undaunted by the list of tasks demanding our attention. We could survive without tile in the kitchen or curtains on the windows, but we absolutely needed trees. And grass, a flower garden, a vegetable garden, a hose, a drip irrigation system, lawn sprinklers, and monkey vines to grow over the new trellis and up onto the peaks of the roof.
Almost immediately after we planted and mulched the last tree, Vic arrived home with two long 4×4 posts, a stack of lumber, a pile of used red brick and a sack of cement. “What’s that?” I asked. His answer, “A patio.” I had no idea!
One year later, plus ten more stacks and piles of lumber and bricks, an electrician, planter beds, and an overhead drip and mister system for twelve pots of hanging ferns and spider plants, there it was. We had our Mexican brick patio. It doubled the square footage of our house.
Meanwhile, inside the house, we hung curtains, patched cracks in the walls, put up a new ceiling in each bedroom as soon as falling plaster made it necessary, and rewired the house to eliminate the fire hazards of ancient cloth covered wires dangling across attic beams. We refinished wood floors and installed new bathroom fixtures. But the improvement projects that really mattered most to us were the ones that took us outside.
We slept inside the house. But we lived outside on the patio. We grilled, we hosted neighborhood garage sales, we entertained with volleyball, and we sat swinging on the porch swing, just ‘hanging out,’ breathing in misted air and watching new fern fronds grow.
Improvements on the inside of the house soon were merely ways of moving the outside in: a skylight over the bathtub, an enlarged kitchen window looking out over the ferns on the Mexican patio, and French doors from our bedroom directly out to a separate, smaller redwood deck patio with a gurgling fountain.
Fifteen years after planting our first tree, I think of the early Jewish nation traveling with tents, living under God’s sky. I know they suffered terrible heat and suffocating dust storms. Insects slept with them. No, life wasn’t easy. But life had its rewards.
I wonder how much of God’s beautiful house do we no longer “see,” living inside the permanent homes of comfort we’ve built? How many conversations with God never happen because we don’t have a tree overhead and a bed of grass to lie in?
Oh, to hear the wind pushing at the side of a tent! Oh, to hear the clear call of the birds, “Come out!” Oh, to live unfettered outside in the house God built for us with His own hands, looking up to the majesty of the house God holds for us one day.
Meditations: In the Garden
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